It has been a mixed start at PSG for the Argentina international after a disastrous period at Old Trafford, but there is a feeling that he will come good
Angel Di Maria’s arrival at Paris Saint-Germain has changed the perception of the French champions. Last season, they were dark horses to lift the Champions League trophy; this time around they are genuine contenders.
But after a failed spell at Manchester United, the Argentine star has shown only sparks of what he is capable of since arriving in France, with his winning volley against Rennes in Friday evening’s 1-0 domestic success very much the highlight of an otherwise mediocre start to his PSG career.
On Tuesday evening, the Di Maria will bear a burden of expectation as he returns to former club Real Madrid, with top spot in Champions League Group A on the line after the teams finished scoreless a fortnight ago.
Head coach Laurent Blanc feels that the 27-year-old’s arrival has enhanced the reputation of his side, but has clearly been keen not to hype his recent addition after a few, uncertain footsteps in France.
“Last season, according to the media, Paris could not win the Champions League. With Di Maria, according to your editorials, it is possible this season,” he told the press last week.
The player is clearly uncomfortable with the assertion, which has largely emanated from the media, that he is a figure who can – and must – be decisive on a consistent basis.
“People have to understand that I am not PSG’s saviour and I can’t make the team win the Champions League on my own. I’m here to help – to add my own grain of sand,” he told beIN Sport.
“I’m not a classic striker – I’m not a goalscorer. I’m not used to scoring in every game.”
Expectation is a dangerous thing. The feeling in Paris is that, so far, Di Maria has not raised the level of the Parc des Princes club since his arrival. It is, however, a sentiment that largely boils down to one match: the insipid draw with Madrid a fortnight ago.
In the first big event of PSG’s season, Di Maria was heavily policed by a Spanish rearguard that clustered around him and made life difficult. He could not make an incision into the defence and, like the other elements of the hosts’ attack, was deemed to have flopped.
Now, he has a second chance.
“He’s got to lift some of the pressure from himself,” Blanc confessed. “His qualities have not diminished.
“Since leaving Real Madrid, he had a very difficult year at Manchester United and now needs time to adapt.”
The player appreciates this fact himself.
“It’s not easy to arrive at a club and fit into the system and the players from day one,” he told Marca. “In Madrid, we played on the counterattack a lot, attacking very directly. Here, there is more possession football and I have to adapt to it.”
Off the field, things are improving for Di Maria and his family. They are enjoying the Parisian lifestyle far more than they did in Manchester, and he always finds himself accompanied by his main ally, Javier Pastore, at training. It is a friendship dating back to the summer’s Copa America, and before arriving in France, Di Maria used the former Palermo playmaker as his chief reference.
“He was previously very happy with the idea of signing, but since he’s got here he feels that even more so after seeing the size of the club,” Pastore commented.
And unanimously there is a feeling that Di Maria will come good in Paris.
Carlo Ancelotti, a former coach of the player in Madrid and a previous boss at PSG, told Goal: “PSG like to move the ball around, while he prefers to get forward quickly. It’s just a matter of time for Di Maria – he needs to adapt to a new system.”
International team-mate Pastore, meanwhile, agrees with the assertion that Di Maria is a player with the ability to be decisive at the most important moments.
“PSG have signed him because he’s a player who can win big games,” he said. “When there’s little in the game, it’s up to him, Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Edinson Cavani to make the difference.”
It was at the Bernabeu that Di Maria has shown the best form of his career to date, but Madrid will hope it is not at the famous venue when it suddenly all clicks into place for the Argentine with his new side.